Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Where now for a liberal-leftie?

May 11th, 2010

So, the bird has gone to roost in the tree; it remains to be seen whether it will prune back the branches to make a nest, while proudly displaying its plumage, or if it will soon give leaf itself, and become indistinguishable from its new home. While the former situation may make me feel happier in the vote, it also increases the chance that tree and bird will fall out, possibly bringing the whole metaphor down with them.

When the prospects of a Liberal Democrat – Conservative coalition first began to become a practical possibility, rather than a theoretical one, I was initially horrified that the paint may have been flaking of my yellow vote to reveal the blue underneath. It was a popular sentiment. When I tweeted “If the Lib-Dems do team up with the Tories, it will be like a twist in a film when you realise one of the heroes is the bad-guy.” It was rapidly picked up and re-tweeted (forwarded) around the Twittersphere by over 160 people. Clearly many like me felt betrayed, and worried that all the talk of “A vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories” would turn out far more literally than they may have expected.

However, as time passed it became clear that options were few. While many of the left looked on at a prospect of a grand liberal coalition, the numbers would have been tight, and an already aggressive right wing press would have been attempting to destroy the coalition before parliament was even seated. It was also clear that several senior members of the Labour party were opposed to the proposition, raising the prospect that internal rebellion would seriously threaten the stability of an already precarious position.

The battle was enough to secure a key concession from the Conservatives though, matching Labours offer of AV. With that my most major opposition to the Lib-Con pact was abolished, although I hope the Liberals keep the pressure on to ensure that the changes go through. The situation wasn’t ideal, and I wasn’t about to pretend I was happy with it, but when the cards are dealt you have little choice but to play.

I still worry though. The Conservative party holds vastly more seats than its little pet bird, and I fear that they may get dragged into the fold. Sacrificing ideals for stability, for want of being heard, or for want of power. Furthermore, it is hard to deny the rightward drift of economic policy in the party over the past few years, and it seems possible that the shelter of the leafy boughs of the Conservatives will catalyse this further. Which leaves a problem, if yellow and blue become indistinguishable, either through incompetence or power-grabbing, where next?

Labour may seem an obvious choice, however their dubious record on civil liberties leaves me concerned. While a few back bench rebels still buck the authoritarian trend, the ability to vote for one of them will largely depend on which consistency I end up voting in.

The Greens are considerably to the left of most the mainstream parties, both socially and economically. However, the party occasionally allows its policies to be driven more by ideology than evidence, leaving a few dubious decisions in their science policy. Fortunately they do appear to be attempting to address these in response to criticism in response to their European Election manifesto. Additionally I can’t help but feel that some of their policies seem impractically naive, however this may just be a side effect of their considerable contrast from the mainstream parties. That said, after the election I discovered that my local Green candidate was following Ben Goldacre on twitter, something that had I realised before-hand would have likely persuaded to switch my vote to her.

So where does that leave me? If the AV vote system does get introduced, at least I will be able to vote for who I want, even if they are a minority party. I must admit I am unfamiliar with many of the other minority parties, although know I rejected the Scottish Socialist Party on the basis of their belief in an independent Scotland. (I rejected the SNP on similar principals) It also doesn’t help that most discussion of neo-liberal economics, Keynsian economics etc. just causes my brain to melt. To actually try and work out if it a) is ‘morally’ acceptable and b) will work, is sadly a bit beyond me.

And that’s that, an entry that tails of into navel gazing hand-wringing. How fucking Lib Dem of me. If you want to preach your party, you are welcome to do so in the comments. I’m genuinely interested.

(Note: First time comments will need to be approved manually. I’m not blocking, I’m just being slow.)

Blog Redesign Launched

May 8th, 2010

I’ve gone ahead and pushed out the blog redesign. I expect there will be a few teething issues, especially with elements which it wasn’t easy to test in either the mock-ups, or using WordPress’ preview function. It is just these kind of situations when running a local server would be useful.

I also intend to try and improve some of the shortcomings of the theme over the next few weeks, and add a few functions. For example, as it stands the site looks somewhat less exciting in Internet Explorer than in most other browsers. I haven’t even dared test it in IE6 yet, partly because I don’t even have access to a copy. With WordPress 3.0 launching soon I imagine I will also try and adapt the theme to take advantage of any improvements made.

Responding to spam comments

Jan 17th, 2010

One of the problems with running a blog is the spam. In addition to the junk I receive through E-mail, I also get plenty of comments spam, from people hoping to get their little spammy plug onto my blog. They don’t succeed. Not only are comments to the blog moderated, but the automatic spam filters catch many of them before they even reach me, but they do still allow me to read them.

Of course, almost every blog in existence has some form of spam prevention, without it they’d soon be overrun. To avoid this they try and not look like spam, either by using generically applicable comments, or else by playing Consequences with key words. This can lead to some peculiar results.

I thought I’d reply to some of this spam. All comments have been cut and pasted, and usernames remain unchanged. Where appropriate URLs have been nullified to prevent the spammer getting any links, or benefit to their Google rank.

Re: On art and games [Part 3]
Matthew C. Kriner
If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.

Thanks Matthew! I’m not sure how you knew I was in the market for a new MP3 player, as I’m pretty sure I never mentioned it in this post. What is interesting however is that you should make you comments on a post which is considering regional differences in gaming market and culture. You may be interested to know that for example, Best Buy doesn’t exist in the United Kingdom, and, for that matter, neither does the Zune. Did it occur to you that perhaps the reason I hadn’t done the bloody obvious thing of physically comparing the Zune and the iPod was because A) The Zune isn’t availible in this country and I am not interested in the support hassles importing would cause b) Because popping down the nearest Best Buy is considerably more hassle when a plane journey was involved. Y’know, for someone with the psychic ability to know I was going to buy a new music player, you should really brush up on your ability to work out that I don’t live in the US and aren’t a total mind-numbing idiot.

Oh, and for future reference, I went for the Sony Walkman X-Series.

Re:Tim Berners-Lee Has a Blog
Plasma TV kopen
This will get some interresting comments haha :P

Well Plasma, you certainly had some interesting parents. Mr and Ms Kopen must have thought themselves highly original with then name Plasma. However, I’m afraid I must disagree with you sentiments. It is not often that a four year old article about a fairly non-controversial topic picks up many interesting comments. For the record, if it does, your certainly wasn’t part of that trend.

Re: This Week’s Tweets
James T.
Considerably, the article is really the greatest on this notable topic. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the extraordinary lucidity in your writing. I will right away grab your rss feed to stay privy of any updates. Solid work and much success in your business dealings!

It is a page of fucking tweets! I’m not one to knock twitter, but 140 characters can hardly be called ‘extraordinary lucidity!’ What have you been reading prior to now, YouTube comments?

Re:Merry Christmas
Mireille Clinebell

Sorry? You found this page on a dishwasher?

Re:This Week’s Tweets
Wonda Lynds
Do you know if there are any natural remedies for this?

For twitter? Perhaps you are confusing it with thrush? If so, I recommend steering clear of most ‘natural remedies’ and consulting your GP.

Re:This Week’s Tweets
Elda Amstutz
How fast can someone start to see the results from using it?

Twitter? Well assuming it is not overloaded its pretty much instant? Wait… is this Wonda again?

Re:Homophobic Censorship?
New Proxy
Why would you want to wait till you are out of school to unblock mysace? You can do it easily with a myspace proxy. Its pretty handy to have around if you need to do some unmonitored surfing.

Wait. People who are out of school use Myspace?

Re:This Week’s Tweets
Georgeanna Bisges
the blanket was Kos’s nickname for so long

And you told me that because?

Re: Political Compass
Regine Siverson
Great fight! Lovely to see Penn headkick Sanchez’s forehead open

Remind me never to be alone with you Regine.

Re:This Week’s Tweets
Marcos Shinault
Sorry, I really hate to ask this but do you have any advice on stopping spam? My sites have been getting hammered lately and i’m not quite sure how to stop it.

It’s called karma. Stop spamming other blogs and you may stop receiving it.

Tips On Finding Cheap Rail Tickets

Jan 3rd, 2010

Over the past four years I have been a regular user of the British rail network. During this time I have regularly been frustrated with the pricing, which can vary from guilt inducing cheapness, to exorbitantly pricey, even for exactly the same journey. Finding the cheapest tickets isn’t easy, and it seems that every time I’ve traveled home, or to see a friend I’ve had to use a different technique at reducing the price from something that makes me reconsider my plans, to something more affordable.

The following post was made by me on a message board, but I have reproduced it here in the hope that it may be of use to someone else. It already assumes that the reader is familiar with sites such as thetrainline and knows that advance purchase of tickets can save them a lot of money. Advance tickets are made available at some indeterminate time before travel and will often sell out quickly.

I’m assuming that when checking for advance tickets you are looking at the price for singles, rather than returns? If not you’ll want to do so, as thats where the savings are.

I’ve had a lot of experience trying to book cheap rail tickets, and it seems I’ve used a different method each time. However most of my tips are better suited for considering long distance travel. However, In case they are of use to anyone:

1) Megatrain.com is great for travel between major stations, assuming you are flexible about travel times. The also provide coach travel, which might be worth a look. Particularly consider it in concert with the next tip.

2) Split tickets. For reasons that are beyond me, cheap advance tickets aren’t always available for the entire route, even on services with no changes. Try looking at splitting the journey. I’ve always had most luck when splitting at major stations, such as Birmingham. I’m not entirely sure of liability should you miss a connection on a split ticket. You’ll obviously avoid this issue is the two tickets are for the same service, although it’ll require you to change seats. In other cases I’ve got an open return for the second half of the journey, which has been short enough that its not a significant enough cost.

3) Buy from the appropriate website. Thetrainline.com is great for finding tickets, but once you know who runs the service you need, try looking at the operators website, as they may offer discounts if you buy direct.

4) Keep an eye on prices. Tickets are made available three months before the date of travel, however the cheapest tickets will not be available at this stage. Instead, the train operator seals a cat in a box with a vial of cyanide gas, which will be shattered by a hammer on the decay of a radioactive isotope. On the death of the cat the train operator also releases the cheap tickets. However, as no one can know when the cat dies without opening the box they instead end up resorting to the point at which they know they’ll be able to annoy the greatest number of people possible. Co-incidentally this ends up coinciding with the point of radioactive decay, as physics is shifty like that. To avoid being disappointed, check regularly. The trainline can actually notify you for popular routes. Once the cheap tickets are out the prices will slowly tick up as each price point sells out, however on journeys with multiple routes different operators will make their tickets available at different times due to their use of different cats. I’m not sure how the hell you are supposed to deal with this. I just stop looking at the prices the moment I jump in to buy a ticket and remain in ignorance.

4) Be flexible. Make sure you check every time, and every route, because the cheapest tickets are elusive and like to hide.

5) A tip which is probably not available to you: Buy a Railcard. You’ll save 30% and can regain your investment. But remember, when searching for tickets to also have a look without your railcard. Some tickets are stubborn and are scared of discount cards. This’ll sometimes mean that you need to buy the tickets separately if the return is cheaper with a railcard. Also, while you only get a Young-persons railcard up to the age of 25, you can buy one on the day before your 26th birthday and it’ll be valid for a whole year.

6) Goat sacrifices may help your cause. However the public transport gods are fickle. Prices may go up, as well as down.

Edit: Just thought I’d clarify, that all by talk of the advance tickets being sneaky tricksy buggers was not exaggeration. Often I have sat back distraught, thinking I’ve exhausted all avenues and will have to pay almost £100 to get to see my family. Then, just as I’m about to give up and throw it all in a tiny change in search parameters, such as using a different website (despite the fact they all go through the same system) and then suddenly a ticket appears for a tenth the price, with no obvious rhyme or reason why it didn’t show up before.

Oh, and be wary of clicking ‘back’ once you’ve selected a ticket. I did that once, and it seemed that it allocated the last cheap tickets to me, and failed to release them when I went back to change seating preferences. I then had to wait a tense half an hour while the system sorted itself out, during which it would just produce an error if I tried to select said tickets, even from a different browser. Finally the system reset itself. Seemingly the tickets I was initially going for had sold out in the meantime, but the band B cheap tickets were available for only a couple of pounds more, instead of the £20 more of the standard tickets.

In addition to the recommendations here, I’d also suggest playing with some of the fare finding features over at nationalrail.co.uk, it requires a bit of patience, and doesn’t always make it apparent as to exactly when the cheapest tickets are available, but should give you indications as to what prices you can expect for the route.

In other news, I have take todays and yesterdays photos for the twenty ten photo project, however will be waiting until I get my desktop set up again before I upload them.

I invite any further tips in the comments.

Google Wave

Oct 1st, 2009

I first saw the Google Wave videos a few months ago, shortly after Google first announced the product.

It looked quite exciting, although admittedly it wasn’t something I was entirely sure exactly how I’d end up using. The simple benefit of a communication system which fused E-mail and chat was obvious, especially when it was also media rich, something that is becoming increasingly important in modern communication. However, at the same time I realised that Google were providing a toolset, which would quickly offer up novel uses, discovered by those who used it. Just as my twitter account has morphed over time, and is now used for far more than just simple “I am eating a sandwich” tweets, so I could picture Google Wave expanding rapidly beyond some of the uses concieved of at its exception.

Of course, the only real way to find all these uses is by using the thing, but at the moment Wave is still in its closed stages. Google have started giving out invites, although I imagine my somewhat late discovery of the application form, not to mention my admittedly limited skills in web development, have lead me to being somewhat low down on their list. Fortunately however, I managed to get hold of an “invite nomination” from Andrew Badera, whose blog I happened to stumble across by accident. Andrew was very kind to drop one my way, especially as I admitted to not being a regular on his blog, so I thought it only fair that I drop him a link in return.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the invite nomination, and should I get some invites of my own, I’ll make them available here, and via my twitter feed.

Update: I recieved my invite this morning. Unfortunately I don’t have anyone to talk to. If you have a Google Wave account, then feel free to wave at me.